The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973



God’s Word and the Animal Cause
 by The Revd James Thompson  

From The Custodians newsletters for January and March 1995: 

Christianity is basically the religion of a book. Yes, more than a book – an inspired volume! This can create problems for many animal rightists, but hardly for those aware of its ethical evolvement. That slavery (for one example) was practised in the Old Testament is hardly justification for it being practised in the New. Paul, writing in Philemon in connection with a runaway slave, recommends that such a creature be taken back as no longer a mere slave but as a ‘brother in Christ’.

That an Old Testament passage should be quoted so as to encourage the burning of witches during the New Testament era, is hardly fair exegesis of the Word of God. Similarly, although polygamy was practised by the patriarchs it was no justification for it being adhered to in the life of the early church.

It is to be very much regretted that within Christendom far too many are to be found who view every part of the divine volume as of equal inspiration. They are a contrast to Paul who humbly made a contrast with what he considered his own fallible judgements and those he considered to be of divine inspiration. It is sad, therefore, to find some animal welfarists jettisoning the whole Bible due to having found some isolated texts at variance with their own twentieth century outlook.

In all humility, I consider another method as equally pernicious. I refer to those who choose to affirm that the original teaching of Jesus was contaminated by the later Paul. They boldly affirm that the true gospel of Jesus is to be found amongst writings which the early Church rejected as spurious. Such apocryphal accounts may, indeed, portray Christ as vegetarian in the fullest sense. However, their authenticity is exceedingly questionable. (Such writings are being disseminated within the New Age movement today where the God of the Bible is being discarded for a mother goddess of the earth!) We fail to realise that, in Solomon’s words, nothing is new under the sun. Because of similar, if not identical beliefs, Christendom’s universally accepted creeds originally came into being!

The Bible is not a direct question and answer manual on morality. It reveals the evolvement of God’s people through His repeated interventions (and, of course, it is much more besides). Those whose words it contains were frequently way ahead of their times. And so were millions who digested its contents later!

William Wilberforce and the Seventh Earl of Shaftsbury were but two men whose minds have since feasted on this divine volume. And the result was NOT a perpetuation of slavery or concubinage, as contained in parts of its early strata, but rather a vanguard against such practices.

One might well ask: well, what has all this got to do with being custodians of the animal creation? Well, I would simply add, a great deal. Periods can be quoted in the Bible when animals were slaughtered – yes, as can periods when the saints of old were prepared to sacrifice their very offspring (Abraham was prepared to, and Jephthah succeeded!). Such facts, however, are no justification for supporting either practice today!

As a strong supporter of your Custodian venture, I will not be moved from loyalty to the sacred scriptures. I am not only the most militant of animal rightists, but I am also an evangelical Christian – every bit as was Wilberforce a century and a half previous. Indeed, too few Christians today – many of whom are so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use – are unaware of certain factors: for example, that while Wilberforce was combating slavery he had also become a founder member of the RSPCA. And what was his daily spiritual food? The Bible which he accepted as the word of the living God!

One of the saddest experiences encountered by Wilberforce, the champion of slaves, was that some of his most vociferous opponents were to be found in parliament – amongst the house of bishops! Yes, the latter could always quote an isolated biblical passage or two to support the perpetuation of such a barbaric practice. Indeed, are not animal caring Christians today similar targets? Fellow Christians – the ones who are blinkered and anthropocentric – will wrench an isolated text from their context to oppose a vegetarian lifestyle. “Your parable says ‘They killed the fatted calf!’ ” Big deal, I thought. “From another parable Jesus commended the strategy of a rogue. Does that mean we’ve all to become rogues also?” I asked. There was no reply!

There are undoubtedly several scriptural texts which could – wrenched from their context – be twisted so as to support animal exploitation. With such liberality of exegesis one could condone slavery, apartheid, polygamy and concubinage! The fact is that this wonderful volume from God, considered as a whole and panoramically, reveals a long story. It soon shows the repercussions of a fall: of a world far removed from the way our wonderful Lord had originally planned it. It equally shows that those characters who are closest to Him are the moral and spiritual pioneers, always ahead of their own generation.

The vegetarian harmonious life style which existed before a deluge is succeeded by a world of universal suffering and death. That an innocent unblemished life should bear the punishment of those who’d turned an ordered creation into an ugly chaos was reflected in the sacrificial system – the pain of which was in the heart of God from before the very creation. The Lamb of God would one day die for the sins of the transgressors. And at the end of the sacred volume it is God’s Son in the form of a lamb who leads the worship of varying forms of life in a paradise restored.

Pain and suffering is the lot of this present age. It is the inheritance of all forms of life. However, the Kingdom of God for which we pray has been visualised in many past biblical eras. It has been referred to by some as a coming millennium. And indeed, though much prophecy refers to things getting morally worse in the latter days, our longing is for Messiah to return and rule. When he does, wrongs will be righted: ‘the wolf shall lie down with the lamb. The lion shall eat straw (be vegetarian) as the ox. The little child shall lead them’.

Yes, in that day ‘the meek will inherit the earth’. But what about the meantime? Should Christians simply sit back and say: “Let’s do nothing. Let’s eat flesh; let’s ignore the factory Belsens; let’s reintroduce slavery – Wilberforce had no right to oppose it: he should have spent such time getting people ‘born again’ ”. Of course not! Alas, far too many who claim to be so regenerated couldn’t care a toss about animals being tortured for either meat or medical research. They could be compared with those who shackled their slaves for the night then retired round the family hearth to lead family prayers. Yes, their schizophrenic life style must surely stink before the One who gave Himself the lovely name of ‘The Good Shepherd’.

Though prophecy will be fulfilled when this Jesus of the New Testament returns to rule, it is our task to pave the way for Messiah’s coming. ‘His’ Kingdom is nearer at hand than ever before, and we who profess to be followers of this Good Shepherd ought to reflect His character here and now. The whole of creation groans in pain, awaiting for us to bring about their deliverance. WE ought to be a foretaste to them of the millennium to follow. Dare any of us say that we are ‘filled with the spirit’ or that ‘Christ liveth in me’ if we do not show the love and care for the larger creation which was that of the Galilean Himself?

You may seek to justify your indifference by arguing, biblically, that animals were to be under the dominion of man. But using the same analogical context woman was to be under the dominion of her husband! The New Testament thankfully enlarges on the care and stewardship that goes with the latter. (The Bible written for humans naturally gives more prominence to them. You could hardly expect it otherwise!) Though the Church was subject to Christ’s headship, He literally lay down His life for her. In a similar attitude, the apostle Paul reminds us, should a husband live and sacrifice himself for his wife!

Similar to the above, with the command to have dominion over the animal kingdom there goes with it the need for humans to exercise a caring and sacrificial stewardship. Indeed, as Jesus knew, good eastern shepherds literally fulfilled this role towards those four legged creatures over whom they had dominion: ‘the good shepherd (when necessary) will lay down his life for the sheep’. What a contrast to modern husbandry!

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